Fishing with the Amateur

I'm currently living in northern VA, and exploring some of the public fisheries the region offers. Here you'll find a quasi-guide of northern VA's small-water largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing venues. I'll also ramble about my life in general.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Return Trips

Over the last month I've made return visits to Lakes Cook and Fairfax. I've hit Lake Cook once, and Lake Fairfax twice. Overall the lakes didn't change much, but it was enough to make things interesting.

I had hoped to find Lake Cook a little cleaner on my second visit. I believed the heavy rain was responsible for the dirty water on my first trip. While the lake was a little cleaner the second time around, it was still pretty stained. The fishing hadn't improved much either. The grass had grown, so I spent some time fishing the thicker stuff. I also hit the limited shoreline cover. A few hours later, I had only one fish to show for it. Consequently, I won't be back anytime soon.

My visits to Lake Fairfax were more productive. On my first trip back I didn't do as well as I would've liked, catching only two keepers. The water was a little lower and the grass a bit higher. Moreover, the lake had been pressured hard. I talked to a guy who'd said he'd been camping for a week and caught good fish every evening. I saw him catch a three pounder out of a hole I'd been anxious to fish for a week - he was already there when I arrived. I'm convinced the fish were holding a little deeper that day, and the fishing pressure really shut them down. Continuing the tradition I began a few weeks before, I missed a good fish right before leaving.

The third trip to Fairfax was arguably the best yet. The water was low and the heat was almost unbearable. I felt that the fish would be in deep (cooler) water, which I couldn't access from the bank. The next best thing would be to visit the large feeder creek at the upper end of the lake. I figured the water would be cooler there also. That turned out to be a very good decision.

I headed upstream until the creek began to look like a trout stream. Fallen trees and brush littered the shaded water, which was also brimming with baitfish. The spot had everything the fish needed. Small plastic worms captured three solid fish. After convincing myself that no others were present, I moved out to the mouth of the creek.

On a whim I tied a Zoom Toad onto my baitcast rod and threw it out across the flat. My first cast landed near a patch of matted grass. A fish sucked it down before I could turn the reel handle twice. That fish came off though. The fish hit a full cast length away, and I hadn't hit him hard enough on the hookset. He stayed down in the shallow muck and worked the hook out. A second fish hit a few casts later and I landed that one. He wasn't as big as I believed the first on was, but he was still the nicest fish of the day. After missing two more fish, I finally landed a larger one - 16.5 inches and very thick. After that the fish shut down, so I moved to the other feeder creek, which is much smaller.

Daylight was fading so I worked quickly, casting to holes in the grass. Though I'd never caught a fish from that part of the lake before (it's extremely shallow), I quickly hooked and landed a big fish. It was about the same size as the last one - maybe a little bigger - and he increased my total to six fish. A few more casts produced one more small fish, my seventh. By now the sun had set and night was fast approaching. I trudged back to the car, quite pleased with my performance. The fish were right were I thought they'd be, and I figured out how to catch them.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

You Learn Something New Every Day

I've been a frequent visitor to the Shenandoah River for about four years now. I fished the river constantly during my college years, and was constantly learning. I went from being a one-dimensional angler to a very versatile one - at least I think so. Though I now possess a much greater knowledge of bass (and other species too) than I did a few years ago, the river is still teaching me.

A river changes frequently, forcing the fisherman to change as well. The Shenandoah is no exception. To consistently find success, an angler must be able to adapt. Lately fish have been transitioning from late spring / early summer patterns to late summer patterns. Also, the water levels are constantly fluctuating. Due to the recent lack of rain, the water level has been low; but after a heavy rain it can flood quickly. On my last visit to the Shenandoah, I faced low water levels, partly cloudy skies, and clear water.

I started out visiting a few holes close to the dam that always hold fish. I caught one on a spinnerbait out of a tailrace pool in 6 inches of water. I then began throwing a "creature bait" around a pile of large submerged rocks in slack water. After pulling a few decent fish from under the rocks, I moved to a faster riffle area and soon hooked and lost a solid fish. After visiting a different hole that produces well for me in the spring and seeing little action, I decided to hit one more spot before leaving.

This spot features a large metal beam that's wedged in between some rocks and is solidly anchored. It has survived numerous floods over the last four years, and its always covered with debris. It sits at the end of a long riffle and just below a trickle of water that flows in from the power generator. Throughout the warmer months it always has at least a few fish on it, but on this day it produced nothing. It did lead me to discovering a new pattern though.

Just before reaching the obstruction I tossed the spinnerbait into the tail of a riffle that was smothered with grass (ranging from knee to waist high). I caught a decent smallmouth on the first cast. Curious to see if anything else was holding in the shallow grass, I waded over with the creature bait. After quickly catching a couple of largemouths and seeing several others, I opted to fish the weeds for the rest of the afternoon. I couldn't believe how shallow the fish were holding. They were way back in the weeds - as far as they could go - in water as shallow as six inches. They were sitting just out of the current, but they would come out for a well-placed bait. Occasionally you could watch the weeds move as a spooked or recently-released fish swam through them. It was incredible to watch.

I worked the main weedbeed in the middle of the river, following it as far as it ran downstream, and then moved to a similar spot upstream. The action was consistent throughout - lots of keeper fish, with a big one mixed in every once in a while. The pattern was so strong that I could predict where the fish would be, and almost call my shots. I pulled probably a dozen largemouths from the weeds that afternoon, and I missed several others. Counting the fish I pulled from other areas, I had probably twenty total. My five biggest were around 7.5 lbs. total - not bad on any day.

This weed pattern is one I'd never experienced on the Shenandoah before, so I'm anxious to exploit it again. I know there were several good-sized fish I spooked, and it'll be fun trying to catch them next time around. I'll be looking for this largemouth pattern for the rest of the summer. Hopefully they'll let me of work to see if the fish are still around.